Title: Elgar Artist: Sheku Kanneh-Mason, London Symphony Orchestra Label: Decca Classics Formats: CD, LP, Digital Release date: January 10, 2020
London-born cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason rose to prominence in the UK after winning the BBC Young Musician Award in 2016 and received international attention for his performance at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in 2018. A member of the remarkably talented Kanneh-Mason family, 20-year-old Sheku has often performed with his six brothers and sisters, all classically trained musicians between the ages of 10-23. His debut album,Inspiration, was released in 2016 on the prestigious Decca Classics label (his sister, pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason, is also signed to Decca). On his sophomore album, Elgar, Sheku performs Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E Minor, Op. 85 with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, plus several short chamber pieces by Elgar and other composers. As a testament to the number of people inspired by the young musician, Elgar is already a best seller, making Kanneh-Mason the first classical musician to break into the Top 10 of the UK album charts in over 30 years, a position currently shared with grime star Stormzy.
Sometimes it takes a royal wedding to bring musical talents to light. Such is the case with cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason. Though the London-born musician was already a celebrity in the UK, the rest of the world took notice during his televised performance at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on May 19. Now his debut album is topping the charts and fans can’t seem to get enough.
The 19-year-old cellist plays like Yo-Yo Ma and cites the late Jacqueline du Pré as an early influence. After winning the BBC Young Musician Award in 2016, Kanneh-Mason was signed to the prestigious Decca Classics label. Inspiration, released earlier this year, proves his mastery through a mix of the classics and arrangements of popular songs.
Kanneh-Mason opens the album with an arrangement of the Hebrew song “Evening of Roses” (aka “Erev Shel Shoshanim”), then segues into the frequently performed chestnut “The Swan,” from Carnival of the Animals.” Next is “Song of the Birds” arranged by another cello great, Pablo Casals. All three are accompanied by the CBSO cello section.
The full City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Lithuanian conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, comes on board for Shostakovich. First, a beautiful rendition of his “Nocturne” from The Gadfly Suite, followed by Cello Concerto No. 1, which Kanneh-Mason performs brilliantly. One would expect no less since it was his performance of this work at the BBC competition that clinched his award.
The album concludes with four additional arrangements that demonstrate Kanneh-Mason’s beautiful tone and musical maturity: “Les larmes de Jacqueline” from Offenbach’s cello suite Harmonies des Bois, Op. 76; Casal’s arrangement of Sardana; and two popular favorites—Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” The latter, arranged for strings, includes assistance from three other young musicians—violinist Didier Osindero, violist Alinka Rowe and cellist Yong Jun Lee.
None of the above were performed during the royal wedding, which included Après un Rêve by Gabriel Fauré, Sicilienne by Maria Theresia von Paradis and Schubert’s Ave Maria, but for those who want more of Kanneh-Mason, the wedding performance is available on video. He will also be touring throughout Europe this summer and fall, with three performances scheduled in Seattle in October. No doubt he will be filling those seats!